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Baby Sign Language Basics

Baby Sign Language Basics

Does that cry mean hunger, thirst, gas, wet diaper, fear, or pain? Trying to decipher a baby’s cries can leave parents feeling frustrated and helpless. To overcome the communication barrier with pre-verbal babies, many parents have begun turning to baby sign language. To help you get started on teaching your little one to communicate her needs with her hands, here's a round-up of baby signing basics.

Why Sign?

The main reason parents teach babies sign language is because non-verbal signs can allow them to communicate some wants before they’ve learned how to speak them. Numerous Circle of Moms members, including Erin M., praise the benefits of this communication: “My little girl is 16 months old and I have been signing with her since she was about 4 months…She seems to learn signs quickly and it has prevented screaming, meltdowns and a lot of frustration. I am so glad we started signing with her!” It's a good bonding experience too, say moms like Amber S.: “Totally worth it and a great way to spend time together!”

When to Begin

While you can begin signing to your baby at any age, experts caution that that babies often won’t sign back until at least 8 months. As a result, patience is key, as are consistency and repetition. As Karen T. shared: “I started to sign with my baby around 3-4 months, she started to sign back at about 8 months. I was so excited. We kept teaching her signs as fast as she could learn them…Now she probably knows about 100 signs (including all the letters, numbers up to 20, and lots of colors and animals).” Wondering if you've missed the signing window of opportunity? As Alexandra O. encourages, “It is never too late to start!”


Starter Signs

Ready to start? Circle of Moms members and experts both suggest focusing on a few basic words to start. More is often the first sign taught; other key words are milk, Mom, and Dad. As Andrea W. shared: “We started with basic signs such as milk, eat, more, then added 'hurt' (tapping fingers together where it hurt to let us know). Another great sign was 'help'...This helped a lot since, instead of frustration about doing something they simply sign to ask for help. Another great sign to start is 'change (my diaper).' Imagine your child giving you the sign the he/she needs to be changed.”

Signing Resources

There are many resources for parents interested in using baby sign language. Baby signing classes, in which an expert will teach basic signs and strategies, are increasingly common. Megan T. shares: “We've started going to a free baby signs class at our local community center, so I'm hoping to be able to broaden our signing vocabulary!” Other moms like Maggie L., self teach through online resources, baby signing books and tutorial videos: “I didn't bother with the classes though. I just got a book from the library and copied the pages with the signs on them and went from there.”

To connect with other moms using baby sign language, join Circle of Moms communities like "Signing Babies-Babies Who Use ASL," "My Smart Hands-Baby Sign Language," or "Moms who Use Baby Sign Language."

Image Source: basykes via Flickr/Creative Commons

Join The Conversation
amandacrossland amandacrossland 6 years
I sign with my son and now at 20 months he has over 100 signs and will attempt new signs straight away. He will also attempt to say the word as he signs it. We don't have frustration tantrums as he is able to tell us what he wants, when he needs it. I used and now teach Auslan baby signing in Melbourne Australia with Australian Baby Hands and so many Melbourne families are now experiencing the benefits of baby signing! (
CoMMember13628293794116 CoMMember13628293794116 6 years
This is great to hear others part-taking in baby sign language, I'm learning British sign language Level one at moment. Think I was bit too late learning my two year old, but time will come and now I have a three month old who love to try and talk with her eyes and gurgle, I'm sure she'l love it.
GinaFaburadaJeanbourquin GinaFaburadaJeanbourquin 6 years
My daughter is two now and she is a great talker, she is my friends favorite cause she can clearly talk and say a complete sentence. A few nights she cried and asked for "water!" and 1 week ago she said "Mami change diaper please Bibi poo"(potty training when she`ll be 25 months). This topic help me decide to teach her how to express or say what she wants or feel. Thanks for this topic.
ChristaLawhun ChristaLawhun 6 years
That is awesome! Teach them as soon as you can the little one's are like sponges :)
ChelseaWinters ChelseaWinters 6 years
I wish I signed more with my daughter. She loves to be able to speak to us with her hands and since we use signs and words simultaneously she often tries to SAY the word as well. Having the sign in combination helps us understand her sooner, without a constant guessing game. My almost 2 yr old daughter uses signs like "help" (she loves to help us but sometimes she has to ask for ours too). "thirsty, hungry, sleep, cat (she loves making the whiskers for cat), teddybear, hat, jacket, bath, shower, Jack, (from one of her favorite shows MVP) , woods, monkey, and other signs that she's made up herself, including "soccer", for another one of her favorite movies.
KateOBrien60722 KateOBrien60722 6 years
Australian Baby Hands is a great resource for Aussie mums, as it is based on AusLan and can be used as an introduction to a second language
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